The Engagement in Santo Domingo

by Heinrich von Kleist

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The characters in Heinrich von Kleist’s story are residents of Haiti in the early 19th century, when it was a French colony. Three characters are the members of one family: a West African man named Kongo Hoango; his wife, Babekan; and their daughter, Toni. Gustav von der Ried, a Swiss soldier, also appears.

Kongo Hoango, now an elderly man, is former slave. Like all the enslaved persons in the colony, he was freed by a late 18th-century change in French law. He has not only participated in the anti-French rebellions but also plays an active role in killing white Europeans. Along with his family and his fellow rebels, Kongo Hoango occupies the plantation house, where they kill Europeans who attempt to find refuge there.

Babekan, his wife, also participates in the plots to kill the colonizers. Although black, she has mixed-race heritage and is light-skinned.

Toni is their adolescent daughter who falls in love with a white European man who comes to their home for help. Light-skinned like her mother, she is aware of the stigma of mixed-race heritage. Moved by her love for the Swiss soldier, Gustav, she betrays the rebels. She dies at the end.

Gustav, a Swiss soldier, has been serving with French forces at a nearby fort, which has been taken by rebels. Seeking aid for himself and his servants, he arrives at the plantation. Initially attracted to the lovely Toni, he has sex with her but the next day, believing she has betrayed him, kills her and then himself.

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